With US and regional allies recognising opposition leader Juan Guaido as "interim" president, government of President Nicolas has received backing of Turkey, Russia and Mexico, dividing the world over the growing political crisis in Venezuela.
Venezuela's crisis quickly escalated as President Nicolas Maduro broke off relations with the United States, his biggest trade partner, after opposition leader Juan Guaido backed by the Trump administration declared himself interim president.
For the past two weeks, ever since Maduro took the oath for a second six-year term in the face of international criticism, the newly-invigorated opposition had been preparing for nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday coinciding with the anniversary marking the end of Venezuela's last military dictatorship in 1958.
While the US and several of its aligned regional countries expressed support to Guaido, Mexico, Turkey and Russia threw their weight behind Maduro.
On Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged dialogue in Venezuela to avoid a "disaster."
Similarly, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also expressed hope the situation in Venezuela is peacefully resolved. The Turkish foreign minister also highlighted that the US and some Latin American countries have repeatedly intervened in internal affairs of Venezuela.
Turkey's Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted early on Thursday that Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Maduro in a phone call, "'My brother Maduro! Stay strong, we are by your side.'"
Kalin added that Turkey, under Erdogan's leadership, would "maintain its principled stance against coup attempts."
Deaths in protests
At least 13 people have died during two days of unrest in Venezuela amid protests against leftist leader Maduro, a Caracas-based rights group reported on Wednesday.
The deaths, mostly from gunshot wounds, were recorded in the capital and across the country, along with reports of looting in Brazilian border state Bolivar, the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict told AFP news agency.
Russia warns against Maduro ouster
Russian officials and senior lawmakers have reacted angrily to opposition protests in Venezuela that support opposition leader Guaido's claim to the presidency.
Russia considers moves to force Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power to be "illegal", Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency on Thursday.
Alexei Pushkov, chairman of Russia's information committee at the Federation Council, on Thursday called Guaido's declaration "an attempted coup" backed by the US.
Russia has backed President Maduro with arms deliveries and loans.
Maduro visited Moscow in December, seeking Russia's political support and financial support.
"It's impossible to imagine that this was spontaneous," Pushkov said on state-owned Rossiya 24 television station, referring to the opposition protests. "That was a pre-planned action, and it was certainly coordinated by the United States."
'Civil war' warning
President Donald Trump has promised to use the "full weight" of US economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela's democracy.
Pushkov warned that the showdown between Maduro and Guaido "could lead to a civil conflict, even civil war."
Most Latin American nations, especially those aligned to the US, recognised the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela's opposition-dominated National Assembly as interim president as did Canada.
Longstanding leftist allies Bolivia and Cuba were the only countries in the region to explicitly voice support for Maduro as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru backed Guaido.
However, Mexico - once a vocal member of the Lima Group regional bloc created to pressure Maduro to enact democratic reforms - struck a discordant note under new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, saying it would not take sides and branding support for Guaido is a violation of sovereignty.
'Get out! Leave Venezuela'
Maduro announced he was breaking off diplomatic ties with the US after Donald Trump recognised Guaido as the "interim president."
"I've decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist government of the United States," said Maduro to thousands of supporters in Caracas.
"Get out! Leave Venezuela, here there's dignity, damn it," he said, giving the US delegation 72 hours to quit the country.
However, the state department hit back, saying Maduro has no authority to sever relations with the US.
"The United States does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela," a statement said.
"Accordingly the United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata."
The statement added that Washington, which backed Guaido's decision to proclaim himself "acting president," welcomed the new leader's decision to maintain diplomatic relations with all countries.
"We recognise the authorities elected in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution," said Jesus Ramirez, spokesman for Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Trump was the first foreign leader to react and threw his backing behind Guaido, describing the National Assembly as "the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people."
The European Union said the voice of the Venezuelan people "cannot be ignored" and called for "free and credible" elections.
"The people of Venezuela have massively called for democracy and the possibility to freely determine their own destiny," the EU's diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement on behalf of the 28-member bloc.
I hope that all of Europe will unite in support of democratic forces in #Venezuela. Unlike Maduro, the parliamentary assembly, including Juan Guaido have a democratic mandate from Venezuelan citizens.— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) January 23, 2019
Armed forces key to stability
Any change in government in Venezuela will rest on a shift in allegiance within the armed forces. They have stood by Maduro through two waves of street protests.
A US state department statement called on Venezuela's army to act.
"We repeat our call to the Venezuelan military and security forces to support democracy and protect all Venezuelan citizen," the statement read.
Venezuela's Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino later said the armed forces did not recognise Guaido's authority.
"The nation's soldiers don't accept a president imposed by obscure interests, nor one self-proclaimed outside of the law," said Padrino on Twitter.
The armed forces "will defend our constitution and is the guarantor of national sovereignty," he added.
The diplomatic support for Guaido was a striking move in a region where countries tend to refrain from criticising each other despite their political differences, underscoring how rattled Venezuela's neighbours have become by its deteriorating situation.
Massive pro and anti-Maduro rallies
On Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans poured into the streets in pro and anti-government protests as the events unfolded.
Opposition spokesman Freddy Superlano said four people were killed by gunfire in the southwestern city of Barinas.
Superlano said members of the National Guard and police were dispersing protesters at the end of an opposition march when the gunfire erupted. He said another three people were injured.
A spokesperson for the Civil Protection office in the state of Tachira said the number of deaths in unrest in the city of San Cristobal had risen to three.
The rally in Caracas followed dozens of violent protests and looting overnight that left four people dead, according to an official and a rights group, an echo of tumultuous street demonstrations two years ago.
Chavez statue destroyed
In a potent symbol of anger, demonstrators in the southern city of Puerto Ordaz on Tuesday toppled a statue of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, broke it in half and dangled part of it from a bridge.
Maduro has presided over Venezuela's spiral into its worst-ever economic crisis.
The anti-Maduro movement, led by Guaido, has gained traction since the former bus driver was sworn in for a second term.
Maduro won elections in May that were boycotted by the opposition and dismissed as a fraud by the European Union, United States and Organization of American States.
In 2016, Maduro lost control of the National Assembly, enabling the opposition to challenge his leadership, but the loyalist-dominated Supreme Court stripped the legislature of its powers in 2017.
The National Assembly has been powerless since then, but Guaido, who became president of the body earlier this month, has risen to the challenge of taking on Maduro's power.
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